MONTREAL—Queen Elizabeth II’s new representative in Canada is a refugee from Haiti—the first black and only the third woman to hold the title of governor general.
Michaelle Jean, 48, is also one of the youngest to hold the office, the highest in Canada’s constitutional order. It is a sensitive if largely ceremonial post, dedicated to promoting a national identity for a vast country with deep political and linguistic fault lines.
“I have come a long way,” she said ahead of her swearing-in Tuesday. “My ancestors were slaves, they fought for freedom. I was born in Haiti, the poorest country in our hemisphere. I am a daughter of exiles driven from their home by a dictatorial regime.”
Her critics claim she is a token and a pawn, picked by Prime Minister Paul Martin to boost slipping support for federalism and his Liberal Party in Quebec. Some say she should have been disqualified from the position because of her alleged ties to Quebec’s separatist movement.
Martin has stood by her, calling her a talented woman who will bring fresh perspective to Rideau Hall, the governor general’s residence in Ottawa.
“Born in Haiti, she knows what it is to come to a new country with little more than hope,” Martin said when he announced her appointment in August. Jean’s family fled the brutal regime of dictator Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier in Haiti when she was 11.
“She is a reflection of that great quality of Canada, a country which focuses on equality of opportunity,” he said. “She reflects what we are and what we want to be.”
Haitian immigrants have been rejoicing in Quebec—the French-speaking province that is now home to 100,000 immigrants or descendants of the Caribbean nation. Other immigrants see Jean, the 27th governor general, as a symbol of what they or their children can hope to achieve in this multicultural nation.